Following the Olympics with your family

Dear Students,

On Friday, I set my DVR to record everything that was XXX Olympics. I keep the TV on in the background while we are together at home. I don’t want to miss a thing.

We watched the opening ceremony. If anyone had asked me, I would have turned those Olympic rings into Quidditch goals.

But that’s just me.

IF you are watching the Olympics at home, these are my favorite guides to getting more out of the games.

USA 98, France 71

I like to follow the hometown newspaper covering the Olympics. London Examiner Guide to the Olympics. They have tons of features and activities for families, along with a different POV than what you might read on NBC.

You can find me watching TV with my laptop. I like to connect with Twitter and follow links to what is going on. I don’t comment much, but I do retweet from time to time. That’s how I watched the Royal Wedding, following Westminster Abbey and St. James Palace commentary to help me understand better what was going on. I can follow the back story I want to follow instead of limiting myself to what NBC commentary.

Sports in 2012 are primed to watch in a group, when you connect with other people who are watching the same thing it’s like having a party in your living room.

You can follow your favorite Olympic athlete on the Olympic Athlete Hub (that’s not the same as the My Little Pony on the HUB).

Ryan Lochte, USA Gold Medalist, Swimming . Watch Lochte this Thursday in the 200 IM. “I said this before,” Lochte said. “This is my year. I feel it inside my gut. I trained my butt off for four years. I’m gonna carry this atmosphere I created tonight throughout these Games.”Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/olympics-2012/michael-phelps-misses-medal-ryan-lochte-grabs-gold-medal-400-individual-medley-coach-competitors-question-work-ethic-article-1.1124095#ixzz222DPxTId

My favorite Digital Citizenship website is Common Sense Media, they put together a comprehensive page for families, to help them enjoy the Olympics.

What do you like about the Olympics? Are you watching?

Go Team USA!,

Mrs. Kenney

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Autism 101: The patient path to making friends

Autism 101 is a series to dispel misconceptions about Asperger’s and Autism in general. I write this post with the help of my 7 year old son, Brady. I could not express these opinions without his input or approval. This is a record of our experience. I am not an expert. I am just a parent telling my story.

“I know what Asperger’s is. It is a disease, you can die from it” — a young student at my school. This statement makes Brady laugh like crazy.

In 2007 I read, Kids with Asperger’s don’t make friends. Kids with Asperger’s aren’t interested in people. Expect your child to struggle socially because of a failure to read faces and a lack of empathy.

At 2 1/2 Brady was waiting for the birth of his younger brother Max. We collected the state quarters and put them on this map. We made one for his brother too.

We did the stuff parents do, went to doctors and therapists, googled, talked to relatives, worried. He was assessed by new people, in new places which brought out his worst. We were offered therapies that were expensive, stressful and questionable. We believed scary things. I cried. We were frightened by the idea if we didn’t do anything now we would cause permanent damage.

Age 4, we were told he needed Play Therapy and other forms of social coaching. After I heard what it was like, it sounded like he would hate it. I did not pursue it. Instead, we created Tuesday Club, our version of play therapy.  A once a week, outside playdate with my mom’s club friends. It was the critical first step in acquiring social skills.

  • We had a set time.
  • It was outside.
  • It was at our house.
  • He had a big wheel that he was confident riding.
  • We did not force him to interact or talk to anyone.
  • We had music, food and fun
  • It lasted a year

I’m glad I did not force him to attend play therapy. The happy boy I see now is a result that he made his developmental gains in secure settings. Again, I do not criticize another’s choice to pursue play therapy.  Autism is a spectrum. Only you know what works in your situation.

Back to Tuesday Club, at first it looked liked this: A bunch of kids playing in my cul de sac and Brady riding his big wheel on the outside and every now and then jumping in someone’s face and yelling. And sometimes crying. And the kids played with each other because that is what kids do if you put them outside with each other and toys, bubbles, dogs and popsicles. Brady did not really play with anyone in a way that I would call play at all.

Instead of attending a $65.00 an hour once a week play therapy, I started a Tuesday club. An open playdate in our cul de sac from 3 to 5. We did this for one year.

In my eyes, it was not working. I expected him to eventually start talking to kids. I expected him to learn names. I expected all kinds of things, ordinary things but I missed what was taking place.

I should have expected him to have fun (he did), anticipate the event with pleasure (he did), participate (he did) and enjoy being with a group of kids (he did).  The critical take away from this one year event was that he developed a positive self image. He matured securely.

I thought Tuesday Club was a lame attempt to solve the play therapy problem. Now I can see what we were

  • giving him security,
  • making a predictable event in a successful environment,
  • giving him space and surrounding him
  • with positive people allowed him to get there on his own.

I had NO IDEA he was making progress. It was very slow.

C was a pretty quiet kid who didn’t really talk to Brady. That might be why he liked him. Brady saw him all the time, he saw his house all the time but he didn’t play with him. When Brady talked about him, I affirmed he.  When C moved away, Brady still talked about him the same way. It did not make sense to me, but it was harmless. Now I think this was his way of moving into a brave, engaged direction.

The next social step  was  recognition of a potential playmate. Brady decided that C was his best friend. He talked about C daily. If we needed a friend, C was his example. In reality, he played with C a few times a year. We saw them coming and going, because they were neighbors. Brady considered those routine glimpses as “playing” without social demand.

In school he mentioned one other student- M, she was friendly and undemanding and greeted him every day. He liked her but did not do his part to keep up the friendship. To her credit, she stayed a constant social force for him in school. She was his first school friend and they are still friends now except he keeps up with her better. She overlooked the fact that he did not always answer or look at her. She was just nice. There are lots of kids like that, and they mean the world to the kids they come in contact with because they are easy and accepting.

Brady and E

Another stop closer, outside of school: E, a little girl who became a fun friend for him to visit–which was a big deal to us. She was two years younger so she was not socially overwhelming, she just loved him. She laughed at his jokes. Followed him around. I could tell that he liked her a lot because he smiled at her all the time. And because her parents are our good friends, he saw her quite a bit. He was getting used to people, she was easy to be with. The friendship was real.

Meanwhile, at school. I work in the library, after school he would go to the library, kids would drop in and he would engage with them. The library is a small setting. He felt in control there. I was nearby, he was surrounded by things he liked. The kids were sweet kids who just wanted to socialize. Because the environment was not overwhelming, he opened up. As the year passed instead of not responding to people, he started to engage. Then he got to to know the kids R, A, X, G, M, S, T. He still didn’t have play dates, recess friends, lunch friends but he was making progress.

Brady’s brother Max has done the most to connect with him. They are 2 1/2 years apart in age. They play and communicate constantly.

The patient path to friendship occurred in the spaces that felt good to him and because our life followed a predictable pattern, and within that pattern kids flowed through. As he matured, those kids meant more and more to him. He was becoming social on his own, without any direct involvement from me. I supported the environment and provided a positive narrative, but time and stability were the biggest influences here.

Towards the end of first grade he made a breakaway step, a best friend. A little boy, C, who liked him for him. They shared interests, they laughed together, they had successful playdates. It took time for me to believe it was true. I dropped him off with his friend and he spent the day. He had a great time. And that summer he transferred that skill in engaging and enjoying one person to new people. He now has a small group of boys that he plays with singly or in small groups. It looks like play to me and play to him.

He does loads of new things with his best friend, enjoys movies, bowling alleys and play dates without me. His friend gives him a willingness to try new things.

His best friend is someone he talks to and laughs with and takes turns and takes risks with. And it’s not all about his way or limited to his interest, yes there is some of that but there is also an ease and a delight in just being with his friend and spending time. And there is lots of empathy. And the fact that he has a great school community.There is no doubt my child has autism. And there is no truth to the idea that people with autism have no feelings, don’t like people and lack empathy.

We told him the truth all along. These are your friends. They want to play with you. You have so many friends. You are a great kid. So time passed, but that was the story.

This summer when we were home visiting family, Brady separated from me and ran off to play with cousins, the children of my friends all the time. I expected him to stay in the house or stay near me or play on the computer. Instead he was off playing war or laughing and talking or swimming. I saw that he was using all the skills he had acquired over the past few years. It happened without me realizing it.  While he was coming into his own, I was still reading about play, socializing, etc but I don’t think any of that reading did anything except help me break down the process so I could explain it in this blog post. I hope my story helps you. I don’t like to write personal things about my child on the internet, but there is so much misinformation on this topic out there, I hope our story helps someone.

Finally, he still does not like any large group setting. I don’t know if he ever will. I don’t think it matters as an adult.

Autism 101: A few words about processing

Autism 101 is a series to dispel misconceptions about Asperger’s and Autism in general. I write this post with the help of my 7 year old son, Brady. I could not express these opinions without his input or approval.

Let’s talk about processing. Processing is a fundamental concept when talking about autism.

Take the example of this old fashioned typewriter–it’s the best way I know to show processing. It has keys and you type by entering keys, one by one to form words,

A typewriter has keys

but sometimes there is too much going on, and it’s like when this typewriter has five or six keys mashed together

Too many things are going on and I’m stuck

The keys jam together and Brady freezes up. Things that make this happen are large groups. A noisy setting. School is full of small events that “make the keys jam together”

It doesn’t feel very good and if you don’t have a word for it or a nice visual like a typewriter with the keys jammed together, it can get a little scary. It becomes less scary when you understand it.

That’s Brady with his hand up. It’s a birthday party. It’s a hot day. It’s all getting to be a little bit too much. He’s asking for a break.

Brady can tell he’s having a tough time at the birthday party. He’s asking for a break. How can he make it better?

Taking a little break before joining the fray. Building in breaks and having good friends put the fun into the day.

Different things. A little bit of time. Having my classmates and friends know that I’m processing. Do you think other people might have processing problems or do you think only someone with Asperger’s?

Comments and questions are welcome!!
Thanks for stopping by my page.

Brady

The Gifts of Summer

Dear Students,

Right about the time tires start melting on the tarmac at Sky Harbor Airport, I fly home with my boys to spend a long vacation on the East Coast

Running on the magic sidewalk in Chicago

At this time in my life, we have more time than money so we plan lots  of free stuff to keep busy playing outside.

Armed with squirt guns and swords, we visited Gettysburg battlefield , many times fighting over Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and Culp’s Hill.

We have one splurge visit to Hershey Park. We spend the day at the park with cousins and ride as many roller coasters as we can.

Max was finally tall enough to ride the roller coasters. We love the Comet, a wooden roller coaster with a 90 foot drop and a rattling good ride!

We have our favorite things to do in Pennsylvania

double feature at the Drive In

Eat Tastykakes

I brought home three squished boxes of Tastykakes. I wish I had more!

Playing with cousins,

What’s better than watching a lab jump in a pool? That’s happy plus plus!

Walking the Gettysburg Battlefield at sunset with a giant squirt gun to beat the heat

We have unexpected wins, like wearing out our AZ Science Center pass at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

We spent 2 1/2 days at the Franklin Center and the boys still didn’t get tired of it. Big win.

They liked that way more than the Liberty Bell.

Change of plan, spend a little bit of time at Independence Park and lots of time at Science Center. Who knew they weren’t ready for all that history yet?

Max was not well behaved at Independence Hall. He basically rolled on the floor and writhed in pain. That made me want to stay even longer.

This is us in the back corner of Independence Hall while I Park Ranger tells a moving story of the great deeds done in the room. My boys are unimpressed but quiet.

We did some of the same things we do at home

We had to buy new balls at Walgreen’s. We made a game. The yellow ball is attack, the green ball is defense, the orange ball makes you dumber, etc.

And some things we could never do at home

Taking the cousins to play on the obstacle course and fortifications at Carlisle Heritage Center, Army War College

We went to Friendly’s to eat ice cream A LOT.

At the end of the trip I saw the sign that kids eat for $1.99 on Tuesday, oh well, next year I’ll remember that!

Brady taught his cousins how to play Minecraft and looks forward to Skyping with them this school year and staying in touch

Brady writes about minecraft at gabbaminecraft.wordpress.com

Every night we met a collection of cousins and my friends kid’s at the pool to eat potluck and play. The weather was much better in Pennsylvania

The pool water is cold in PA and feels refreshing!

and all along

We don’t know if the baby is a boy or a girl

I hoped and prayed that my sister would deliver her baby

Baby’s due date was for the week after we came home

before we left

At 11:30 PM the night before we flew home, instead of packing, I waited at the hospital to meet someone new

and baby cooperated

thank you thank you thank you

how was your summer? Could it have been better than mine?

Meet Abigail Scarlett, just one hour old.

I can’t wait to see you again,
Love, Mrs. Kenney

Science Musem Passport

Dear Students,

This week I tried something new, I used my AZ Science Center membership to visit another science museum for free. We visited the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, PA.

We are IMAX junkies. That day we say Tornado Alley, which was pretty awesome.

Our family bought a membership to the AZ Science Center for $40.00 in the spring when a promotion popped up on Living Social. Good thing too, because just seeing the IMAX set us back $22.00. I can’t imagine paying for IMAX and admission.

Our favorite exhibits at the Whitaker Center were the tornado, the stop motion animation and the virtual graffiti.

Our membership to our Science center gives us entre to any center more than 90 miles away, the membership is a passport to 260 participating science centers.

This exhibit on water flow reminded me of the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA.

We wanted to see the Leonardo Da Vinci: Machines in Motion traveling exhibit based on the Leonardo notebooks and drawings.

Leonardo’s version of the tank, ready for you to walk inside and explore.

I notice that many science centers host traveling exhibits. Do you think it would be fun to design a traveling exhibit? What would yours be about?

From the East Coast,

Mrs. Kenney

Lazy DIY: Slip and Slide

Dear Students,

The inspiration for my Lazy DIY today came from one of our San Tan Roadrunners. My son was invited to a slip and slide party to celebrate the end of Kindergarten last year.

the biggest slip and slide I ever saw

This slip and slide is made from heavy gauge plastic, the kind an east coast house might staple over a window to keep the draft out. But you wouldn’t know anything about that would you, growing up in Phoenix.

Cheap inflatables and pool noodles made the ride more fun

Of course, when we flew home to Pennsylvania the following week we bought our own tarp and created a loved family tradition.

We bought the tarp for $25.00 at Home Depot

We set up a sprinkler at the top of the hill, we spritzed the surface (and each other) with anything slippery. Bath soap, hand soap, wesson oil. We called it Special Sauce. The kids come up with best ideas.

We love to see our cousins and friends every year.

I hope you are enjoying the summer.

From the Keystone State,
Mrs. Kenney